This week my stainless steel electric kettle decided to self-destruct. It had been self-harming for a long time, bunging up the water gauge so it looked permanently full, and repeatedly coating its insides with a thick layer of limescale. That’s one of the occupational hazards of being a kettle in the Cotswolds.
I learned long ago that the best way to descale a kettle is to fill it with cheap malt vinegar, which costs about 20p for a huge bottle. (My school science lessons were not entirely wasted.) I looked forward to watching the acid dissolve the gritty alkaline and it was satisfying to swoosh out all the bits into the sink. But this week even that trusty technique didn’t restore life to my kettle, so I resorted to the Argos catalogue to choose a new one.
Years ago, when I was a student and a proud owner of my first electric kettle, the choice was simple: a “forgettle kettle” (the strapline for the newly-invented type that turned itself off when it boiled) or one that you had to turn off yourself. When your kettle started to play up, you went to the hardware shop (a presence on every high street in those days) and bought a new electric element, giving your old kettle a new lease of life. These days, when we’re supposedly so environmentally aware, we have no choice but to chuck the whole thing out and start again.
So which new kettle to choose? I cast my eye over the many makes and models on offer. They were grouped into numerous categories, becoming more and more bizarre as I turned the pages. Who needs “illuminating kettles” , for heaven’s sake? Unadventurous, at least in the kettle department, I wrote on the back of my hand the product number of the one that looked most like my late kettle.
But then when I got to Argos, something made me flick through the catalogue again. And this time my eye fell upon the last one on the last page, one that I had missed before. All alone, in a section of its own, was a “glass kettle”. Glass kettles? Hmm, never seen one of those before, I thought, but watching the bubbles and rising steam will provide a useful physics lesson for my small daughter.
So I picked one up and brought it home. From the moment I eased it out of its box, I fell instantly in love with it. For what’s not to love about a glass kettle? It doesn’t block out light on the windowsill the way my metal one did, which just sat there looking brooding, dark and ugly. It’s almost as good as having an invisible kettle. You can see at a glance how full it is. You can spot when it’s close to boiling. You will even be able to see when it’s starting to fur up with limescale, and reach for the vinegar before it reaches crisis point. (And I do like to have advance warning if I’m going to have to go without tea for longer than 10 minutes at a time.) In fact, it’s so great that I wonder why all kettles aren’t made of glass?
This got me to thinking about other items around the house. I’m sure a change of materials could revolutionise all kinds of things. Firstly, and perhaps a little obviously, there’s the glasses. If only our beautiful set of Rennie Mackintosh wine glasses that we had as a wedding present had been made out of plastic, we’d still have enough of them left to put out at a dinner party. Of the original 18, we’re down to 2 after 9 years of marriage, so I suppose if we break those last two, we’ll have to get divorced and start again.
Sorting through my daughter’s sock drawer to weed out the ones that are tantamount to Chinese foot binding, it occurred to me that children’s clothes should all be made of elastic. That way, you could buy clothes for them to grow into without making them look like they’re wearing hand-me-downs – and when they do grow, their clothes would grow with them.
And why aren’t all cars made entirely of rubber? That way, when I had a close encounter when cornering a dry stone wall the other day, I’d have just rebounded, instead of taking part of it with me and leaving some of my paintwork behind.
There must be endless items out there that could do with this kind of rethink. If any entrepreneurs out there want to have a go with some of these inventions, please feel free to do so – I give you my ideas as a gift. Just remember to send me your catalogue when you’re ready, so that I can place my orders. And could you please make sure you print the catalogue on newsprint, rather than the usual glossy paper? It’s so handy for lining the guinea pig’s cage. And if you could make it cucumber flavour, that would be even better – after all, it is her favourite.